Dealing with Fools
Do you know someone you would describe as “difficult,” “stubborn,” “hard-headed,” “self-centered,” or “opinionated”? Or in today’s understanding, maybe “narcissistic”? If so, it might be helpful to realize that some of these people may fall into the category the Bible labels as fools – those who have rejected God’s revealed wisdom and, instead trust confidently in their own judgment.
In this post and two to follow we will see how the Bible identifies fools and how the wise should respond to them. The more we study this topic, the more we realize our spiritual and emotional health may be dependent on our ability to recognize and deal with fools in our lives. It seems that many people have chosen to follow the way of foolishness and, if we are related to them through marriage, family, work, or friendship, their decisions affect us.
Our goal in these posts is truth. We’re not trying to accuse people unjustly or to label them inappropriately. We never are to call another a fool in anger (Matthew 5:20-22), but if we are, in fact, entangled in relationship with a fool, knowing that truth will lead us to realize there are unique biblical ways of dealing with him or her (1). Jan Silvious, who has made an extensive study of the behavior of biblically defined fools, has concluded, “It is relational suicide to assume you can win over a fool by argument, sweet reasonableness, or any other common wisdom.” So, if we even suspect we are in relationship with a fool, we will want to pay attention.
Remember, there are varying degrees of foolishness. There are times when we all make foolish decisions. So, let’s honestly look at ourselves as we study the characteristics of fools. Our goal is always to remain humble, teachable, and living in the fear of the Lord. That’s the only pathway away from foolishness and toward wisdom.
Recognize, too, that you may know someone who does foolish things, but does not have the specific characteristics of a fool that God reveals. Good judgment is needed as you relate to this person. Prayer is essential. Holy Spirit enlightenment is a resource we should seek in all relationships and especially in those that are difficult. So, with all that in mind, let’s begin our look at what a fool like according to the sages of Proverbs.
A fool is not teachable
The primary and most easily identifiable characteristic of a fool is that he refuses to accept correction. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7). The way of wisdom seems ridiculous to a foolish person. He might even mock the things Christians do as they are living lives of purity, giving away resources, taking everything to God in prayer, loving others unselfishly, and choosing not to engage in certain worldly pleasures. Because the fool doesn’t acknowledge who God is, those behaviors don’t make sense to him, so he despises the way of wisdom.
Part of the reason a fool is unteachable or uncorrectable is that she thinks she’s right – all the time. “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2). Fools think everyone else should do things their way and think about things the way they do. You might try to explain your point of view (or God’s) to a fool, but he really doesn’t care to hear it. She already has her mind made up and may spend a great deal of time and energy trying to convince you that you are wrong, and she is right. In the end, if you don’t agree with her, she will most likely be angry with you.
Because he is unwilling to learn, a fool tends to repeat mistakes. “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). If we don’t learn from our mistakes or errors in judgment, we keep making the same ones again and again. One marriage fails and a fool takes the same behavior to a second and wonders why this one isn’t working either. He views employer after employer as wrong, stubborn, and unworkable, so often goes from job to job. If he has people who work for him, many of them leave after they realize the working atmosphere is coercive and/or negative. Even after these things happen repeatedly, the fool doesn’t change his attitude or behavior. He’s certain the problem lies with everyone else, not with him.
If these paragraphs describe someone with whom you have consistent contact, think on the verses quoted, turn to God for guidance, and read our next two posts for more insights into how to relate to someone God might define as foolish.
(1) I will alternate male and female pronouns throughout to avoid the awkward he/she, but still to make it clear that fools are found in both sexes.
(2) Silvious, Jan. Foolproofing Your Life. Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc., 1998, p. 10.